The Toxic Legacy of Donald Trump…

‘There is nothing normal about this president, not in the way he came to power, not in his willingness to dismiss inconvenient facts, to fabricate ‘statistics’, repeat fictional terrorist massacres, nor in his hatred of a free press, his contempt for America’s allies (except Israel), his defence of racist and Nazi groups and disregard of minority rights. Nor, dare I say it, will there be anything normal about his inevitable demise.’[1]

I wrote that for Slugger in December 2017 and although one didn’t have to be a political sage to figure that out, there was a sad predictability about it all. It started with his tasteless, bitter inauguration where he slated his predecessors while they sat in his company, leaving George W Bush to mutter, ‘That was some weird shit.’[2]

Of course, it only got weirder.

The lies began almost immediately. Trump being Trump, had to claim via his press secretary Sean Spicer, that he had the biggest inauguration crowd in history when a simple comparison of photographs taken from the same viewpoint a few years apart would show Obama had by far the bigger turnout. When challenged the next day, Spicer’s assistant Kellyanne Conway, explained the assertion was not a falsehood but rather ‘alternative facts’.[3] It was an insult to anyone’s intelligence but it quickly transpired that truth is what Trump says it was. Just as in Orwell’s 1984 where 2+2 can equal 5 if the party wishes it, we were treated, according to the Washington Post, to over 22,000 lies and misleading statements by October of last year, more than fifty lies a day. His Twitter account, now silenced, was essentially a production line of deception and falsehoods, designed to bolster his base and bamboozle and infuriate everyone else.[4]

He governed like a mafia don, using a mixture of charm and veiled threats to get his way. He demanded complete unconditional loyalty even from those he had no right to expect it from, like the president of Mexico, who was expected to help Trump save face by pretending to pay for the border wall which was the central tenet of his election campaign.[5] Unfortunately for Trump, Peña Nieto, refused to humiliate himself or his country to save Trump embarrassment.

And so, it went on.

By the summer of last year, Trump was facing an uphill struggle to be re-elected, so he began circulating conspiracy theories about how the election would be rigged. In the meantime, some Republican governors and state assemblies purged the voter rolls of people unlikely to vote for him and in the midst of a deadly pandemic, made it as difficult for people to vote by mail as they possibly could. The US Postal Service removed postal sorting machines in the run up to the election, a move that would inevitably slow and impede the delivery of postal ballots,[6] hardly a coincidence as Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden, was encouraging his supporters to vote by mail as to avoid contracting and spreading Coronavirus. The narrative was thus set. Postal votes were deemed fraudulent and when Trump lost, his contingency plan swung into election – refuse to admit defeat and challenge everything in the courts where his hand-picked judges would deliver the election to him. He had personally selected three of the nine supreme court justices, they owed their position to him, and in Trump’s world, every relationship is transactional. Except the judges would not play the role he had drafted for them. They did all the tiresome things judges are apt to do, like following the law and demanding evidence; a spurious claim on behalf of the president was not enough to disenfranchise millions of voters. The Trump team filed 62 law suits to challenge various aspects of the election and lost 61 one of them. Some of the cases were kicked out by judges Trump himself had appointed. The ingrates on the Supreme Court refused to even hear some of his cases.[7]

To Trump the world is divided between winners and losers and he could not conceivably be one of the latter. With his legal options exhausted, he tried others of a more dubious nature. In a taped conversation he asked the Republican Secretary of State in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to ‘find’ him 11,870 votes to put him over the line in the keenly contested state.[8] Raffensperger, a Republican, had the courage to politely stand his ground and tell Trump his assertions were wrong. It is safe to assume if Trump had managed to overturn the result in Georgia, officials in other battleground states would be put under similar pressure. Still undeterred, Trump had one last card to play.

Both Houses of Congress, by way of the Twelfth Amendment, count the electoral college vote, to officially appoint the president for the forthcoming term. This is always a formality as the individual states have already certified their individual votes which are then unsealed and counted in the presence of the Vice President. The final tally is always known weeks in advance and rarely if ever differs from what the major news networks ‘call’ on election night. Trump saw in this ritual, an opportunity to influence or even prevent the count. He wanted the Vice President and Republican representatives to refuse to accept the result thereby feeding his assertion that Biden’s election victory was somehow illegal.

Trump called the MAGA faithful onto the streets of Washington DC where he fired them up in a speech in which he termed Democratic election victories ‘explosions of bullshit’, and urged the crowd to ‘cheer on our brave congressmen and senators’.[9] His son, Don junior, used more sinister terms, and warned Republican congressmen who were not prepared to reject the election result, ‘we’re coming for you.’[10] The intention was clear, intimidate every Republican congressman and senator and change a constitutional nicety into a crisis he could take to the Supreme Court.

And come for them they did. As we know all too well in Northern Ireland, bringing crowds onto the streets is one thing, controlling them, is quite another. The crowd erected gallows, perhaps in jest, perhaps not, to hang Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s heretofore loyal lieutenant. He had the temerity to perform his constitutional duty and not endorse what amounted to a coup attempt. The thin screen of police was swept aside and on at last one occasion they actually removed barriers to allow the crowd access to the capitol building. It was there that things got ugly as the self-styled patriots forced their way into the building, beating a policeman to death with a fire extinguisher, and thrashing others with the American flag they profess to hold in reverence. Once inside they vandalised offices, stole laptops, stationery, and furniture as souvenirs and even defecated on the floor. Pence, senators and congressmen were evacuated through underground tunnels while terrified staffers were trapped inside offices as angry mobs beat on the doors. We can only guess at what would have happened to Nancy Pelosi, and other MAGA hate figures, had they encountered intruders some of whom were carrying plastic handcuffs and firearms. When order was finally restored, Trump told the rioters they were ‘very special’ and that ‘we love you’. However, when details of the carnage unfolded, he backtracked, condemned the violence and left those foolish enough to take part in it, face a minimum of ten years in prison, a sentence Trump himself introduced with different kinds of protests in mind.[11]

We now have the unthinkable position where the outgoing president of the United States is banned from every conceivable social media platform in case, he incites violent insurrection. The military too, as early as August when Trump was refusing to say he would accept defeat, felt the need to issue a statement saying their loyalty is to the constitution, not an individual president.[12] Even so, Trump still toyed with the idea of introducing martial law to cling onto power, from late December to within the past week.[13]

He will leave behind a bitterly divided country where many are apt to believe conspiracy theories no matter how ludicrous. His efforts to remake the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower in his own image, has turned it into the home of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. A power struggle between traditional conservatives and Trump loyalists for the soul of the party seems likely following his departure. American democracy has survived Trump only because judges, state officials and generals, the majority of them probably Republicans, put duty before political allegiance and refused to be intimated into doing what was unethical and even illegal. The US may not be so lucky if a smarter, more nuanced version of Trump comes along riding a similar wave of anger and hate.

If Trump is wise, he will repair to Mar-a-Lago, cheat at golf and keep his mouth closed, but I doubt he will. His history suggests he will be seething with resentment and thoughts of revenge. I suspect though his energy will be devoted to the considerable legal jeopardy he will soon face. Avoiding penury and prison will be his priority for the foreseeable future. No one wins all the time, not even Donald Trump.

  2. 19th October 2017
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Donald Trump – Caricature” by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY